Gaming in 2018


gaming

This was the year that I embraced the Nintendo Switch further and also upgraded my Xbox One to the Xbox One X.  It’s also been fairly packed as far as actual games are concerned, and although I haven’t finished that many games, I have experienced a rather wide variety of gaming than I have for a while.

HellbladeI dipped my toe into the narrative-lead genre with Life Is Strange and enjoyed following a story primarily rather than shooting or hitting things.  It was refreshing.  The award winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice took a similar narrative focus but also brought with it intelligent examinations of mental illness mixed with nors mythology.  Both are games I intend to go back to and finish at some stage.

Finishing (at least as far as their stories are concerned) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Dishonoured 2 and Shadow of the Tomb Raider this year were also some of my fondest gaming memories in the last twelve months, and especially Zelda being now one of the best games I’ve ever played.  It feels a good time to be a gamer.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Sony’s PlayStation 4 I confess has taken a significant back seat this year with even titles like God of War not really holding my interest.  I think it’s just the fact it’s the most talked about and most popular games consoles on the market that leaves me cold and I often find myself shunning that which is treated as such and well, who doesn’t like to back the under-dog?  So yes, Xbox has got far more of my attention and although I’ve only slightly dipped my toe into the consoles admittedly lacking exclusives (Sea of Thieves seemed cool at first ‘till I realised it had nothing to offer the single player, and Xbox One XForza Horizon 4 is superb but racing games don’t hold my interest.  However I did really like State of Decay 2 and should get back into it at some stage).  Yet I admit it hasn’t been a great year for Xbox despite their Gamepass service being terrific and a great way to play lots of different games I may otherwise pass up.  I have my hopes for 2019, but Crackdown 3 or possibly the next Halo isn’t going to win them a console war they’ve already lost.  Roll on next gen I say.

Recently I’ve been getting into Pokémon.  In the run up to Nintendo Switch exclusive Pokémon Let’s Go, I’ve been playing the mobile game Pokémon Go.  I really like the concept and can see it being a new thing for me and am really enjoying the Switch game since having it for Christmas.  In addition to this I’ve been playing Super Smash Bros Ultimate (I’m a complete novice to the series but am certainly impressed with what this version offers as far as modes and gameplay not to mention the graphical detail on show).  Also I’ve been playing the much hyped Red Dead Redemption 2 which is THE showcase for the Xbox One X, with native 4K resolution and the most detailed and impressive gaming world I have ever experienced.

Pokemon Let's Go

There’s been a fair few games I’ve had to leave on the back burner, and whether or  not I return to them I can’t say but games such as Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Assassin’s Creed Origins are two I hope to dip back into as I was enjoying them a great deal but with so many gaming distractions throughout the year, it’s easy to get side tracked.

So there you have it, my thoughts on gaming for me in 2018.  I’m excited for what 2019 will have to offer and am sure I’ll get to play many more great games.  For now I’ve got my work cut out with the games I have got.

Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay reveal


Holy cow this game looks incredible.  Possibly the most anticipated game to get talked about at both E3 2018 and the recent Gamescom convention, despite neither events showing what the game was like to actually play.  Now we can finally put our fears, thoughts and wishes to rest with this extra-long in-depth reveal of the game in action.  Strong vibes of Deus Ex, but that’s never a bad thing…

 

E3 thoughts


e3-2018

I had mixed feeling in the run up to this year’s E3 conference … the biggest event on the gaming calendar, where the big companies, publishers etc. showcase their plans for the coming year and beyond, often revealing games and services for the very first time.  It’s always very exciting, but with the recent slight fall from grace Microsoft and it’s Xbox brand had experienced with a drought of AAA exclusive games compared to it’s immediate rivals, Sony and Nintendo – I was also concerned.  So below I’ll go through my brief thoughts on the various conferences shown followed by a few highlights.

Microsoft

Microsoft had a lot to prove.  The army of Sony fan-boys loved sticking it to the American giants that the platform was lacking the big name exclusive games compared to their beloved PlayStation, and I can certainly understand where they are coming from.  Where’s Xbox’s God of War?  So watching the near 2 hour conference was nerve-wracking … but, Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer came out swinging, with an immediate reveal of Halo Infinite (just a CGI trailer sadly) and then went on to present a very confident presentation showcasing many games and several exclusives, including the likes of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Crackdown 3, Forza Horizon 4 and  Gears of War 5.  However the big news was the acquisition of 5 game studios that will now be working on first party games for the Xbox platform … the big surprise being the purchase of Bafta award winning studio Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senora’s Sacrifice).  Microsoft shot down the nay-sayers that would presume Xbox isn’t interested in exclusives anymore and set in motion a future that well really, should have been set in motion years ago – but at least now that future is more promising that it had seemed before E3.

Crackdown 3

Outside of exclusives, some games that will be appearing elsewhere also, were shown for the first time including Devil May Cry 5, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Cyberpunk 2077.

I would have liked to have seen a Fable announcement or the rumoured Perfect Dark game, but that elusive, big name exclusive title that would wow me and surprise me, was sadly absent.  Microsoft did a lot right here to build confidence in their brand and to pave an exciting future ahead, along with a brief mention of new Xbox hardware on the horizon … but in the present, they still for me didn’t do enough to sway those not already invested in Xbox.

Nintendo

Super Smash Bros UltimateWith Nintendo riding high on the success of the Switch, and it being my preferred platform of choice for the best part of the last twelve months, I had high-hopes for their presentation.  Much more low-key it turned out than Microsoft, with no on-stage conference just a 45 minute Nintendo Direct.  Games like Daemon X Machina, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Super Mario Party and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate were revealed for the first time along with several indie titles and more footage of previously announced games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker.  However an absence of Mario Tennis was odd and especially disappointing was no mention of Metroid Prime 4.  The follow-up Nintendo Tree House event showcased Smash as well as an in-depth look at the forthcoming Pokémon Let’s Go games … but my overall impression was that Nintendo really didn’t pull anything out of the bag this year, perhaps a little too confidence with the Switch’s continued success.

I’ll certainly be getting my hands on Smash Bros as it looked a ton of fun and Pokémon interested me a lot more than I expected.

Sony

Sony went for a rather unconventional approach to their conference, hosted in a tent for starters and focusing on previously announced games rather than any new reveals (for the most part).  It was not what I expected from Sony, who are currently the industry leaders by a large margin but I guess they can relax and show they don’t really have anything to prove anymore.  So yeah if they want a banjo player on stage, then I guess they can have that.

Ghosts of Tsushima

So we got to see a lot more of The Last of Us: Part II, Death Stranding and the first full details of Ghost of Tsushima and Spider-Man.  Flute players, banjo players and a running commentary …different, but what’s E3 without a few bizarre moments?  I am excited for The Last of Us definitely, it looked incredible as did Ghost of Tsushima.  I was however surprised to see a Remedy game showcased, namely ‘Control’ but it’s a multi-platform title so they hadn’t jumped ship to Sony after mostly working with Microsoft for years.  Several games for PlayStationVR were also announced even if VR doesn’t interest me.  The big surprise for me was a remake of Resident Evil 2, arguably my favourite Resident Evil game of all time.  Not exclusive to PlayStation but an exciting announcement all the same.

The overall feeling I got from the Sony conference was that PlayStation were sitting very confident in their line up of games, not really showcasing anything ground-breaking for the future, but that’s probably something to do with the persistent PlayStation 5 rumours.  It’s clear to me Sony have some very good studios in their pocket and they’ll continue to dominate the market for the foreseeable future.

The other conferences etc.

I didn’t take a great deal of notice of the other conferences other than checking out highlights from EA, Ubisoft and Bethesda, all of which showcased some exciting stuff including Rage 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the impressive looking The Division 2.  As with all games shown, taking what we’re seeing as actually what we’ll finally get should include a hefty pinch of salt but damn… were there some stunning looking titles showcased this year.  The future looks healthy for all 3 major platforms and the games industry as a whole is making leaps and bounds in technology and innovation to bring us, the gamers so much for the coming years.

The X Factor?


Yeah, I’ve been eyeing this up for a while but was never that sure whether to make the leap or not.  What am I talking about?  The Xbox One X of course.  I always felt that Microsoft upgrading their Xbox One console made more sense than Sony upgrading theirs.  Well, the PS4 ever since it’s release had been riding high on the simple fact it was more powerful than Microsoft’s console and hit that much desired 1080p HD resolution more consistently than the Xbox One could.  So along with Microsoft’s woes with the largely ignored Kinect, a lack of sheer horsepower made it the less desirable console.  It placed the machine in second place and well, the damage was done.  So to grab back some momentum and close the gap in graphical power… the much anticipated Project Scorpio for me, made sense even if shelling out for another console was less appealing.

Xbox One X

Now since Sony’s own PS4 Po has been released, I was impressed to see that even with such competition Microsoft could still make the more powerful machine – something admittedly they should have done from the start, but er… better late than never, eh?  I’d had the original Xbox One for getting on for 5 years and so thought it may be time to upgrade, seeing as I were more and more games taking advantage of the enhancements afforded by the X.

gears_of_war_4So my first impressions from about a day of having the Xbox One X  It’s a much sleeker looking, compact machine, dwarfed by the enormity of the original machine in comparison, but also weighs a fair bit more as a result.  How they managed to cram almost 5 times more raw power into a much smaller machine boggles the mind (it’s even smaller than the PS4 Pro) and doesn’t come with an external power-brick either (same as the redesigned Xbox One S).  So it’s a nice looking machine but how does it operate?  That’s a tricky one to answer.  Without comparing both machines side by side, the graphical upgrades aren’t immediately obvious.  The games I’ve tested thus far include Far Cry 5, The Witcher 3, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Gears of War 4.  All feel extremely smooth and look very sharp.  Lighting, particle effects and texture detail all seem excellent so it’s difficult to grumble, but how much better?  I’m still unsure.  But there does seem an improvement.  These games were already graphical powerhouses (although Far Cry 5 I got with the console) and some have required huge update patches to bring the enhancements.  Certain games also give handy menu options to toggle such things as visuals, frame rate or fixed 4k support.  However, I am using a 32” 1080p TV so seeing the true 4k beauty isn’t possible – but by my eyes each game looks great.

Xbox One X controller

It’s early days, but owning a new Xbox has made me want to get back into the platform after being distracted by the joys of Nintendo Switch.  So I will be returning to Xbox games I have yet to complete and checking out recent and forthcoming releases, especially the ones that really show off what the machine can do.  So far I’m impressed, but like the transition from DVD to Blu-ray the real joy of this system will only come with time.

Craig.

State of play


Regular readers of this blog will have observed I haven’t been posting many reviews of late.  Well, I’ve simply not been watching that many movies and concentrating, entertainment-wise more on videogames, what with recently buying the Nintendo Switch and having a great deal of fun with it.  Even my Xbox One and PS4 have become a little neglected as a result, even though I have been playing Persona 5 on the PS4 recently and getting some fun out of that.

Nintendo_Switch

Firstly I’ll report how much I’m enjoying the versatility of the Switch.  That simple idea of being able to play it like other consoles on my TV, and then being able to take that experience mobile and go play it wherever I like portably.  It’s pretty revolutionary and I’m guessing the big reason the console has been selling like hot cake since launch.  A month on I’ve clocked in over 60 hours in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and also had fun playing Graceful Explosion Machine and most recently, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.  To a lesser extent I’ve found indie titles like Snake Pass and Mister Shifty, intriguing but somewhat flawed and very frustrating.  However I’m mostly aiming that at Snake Pass which I doubt I’ll even pick up again it annoyed me so much.

Persona-5Going back to Persona 5 for a moment, I craved a traditional JRPG and with it’s lush anime style visuals and quirky personality, I jumped on this with excitement.  The opening hours though are very slow, dialogue driven and well, not much action and I could see it putting some people off.  However having stuck with it after what seemed to be a lengthy tutorial, the game did open up, the exploration restrictions and focus on dialogue relaxed a little and I could get more into the world, the game mechanics and the general vibe.  I cleared the first major mission after about 10 hours of game time and I’m intrigued to see where the story goes.  However it is a game that once you start playing, hours fly by and I realise I need to set some time aside each time I play to really get any progression done.  For now though I’m enjoying it.

Breath of the WildBreath of the Wild has been a massive, somewhat daunting experience but has all that unique Nintendo charm I’ve always admired, and this feels like the most fleshed-out and intricately detailed Zelda game I’ve played.  I wouldn’t call myself a Legend of Zelda aficionado by any stretch and have only really played through the Gameboy release ‘Links Awakening’ and the Gamecube game ‘Wind Waker’ whilst only slightly touching on ‘Twilight Princess’ back in the day, and although this has echoes of all those games, with an art style slightly resembling Wind Waker (but less kiddie more Ghibli), I have fallen in love with everything it has to offer.  Even 60 hours in I’m still finding new areas, uncovering side quests and well, have barely delved into the main missions (I’ve completed one ‘divine beast’ so far…) so still tons to do.  All I’ll say though now to conclude is that I’m very much impressed.

On the back burner some games have had to be placed.  It’s the nature of the beast I’m afraid owning three consoles now, and I need to focus on just a small amount or run the risk of getting bogged now with unfinished games.  So Dishonoured 2 which I’ve been really enjoying has had to be ignored for a bit, as has Watchdogs 2 and Mafia 3.  Phew that’s a lot of games but for now my time is best spent with Zelda and Persona, even though both games are reportedly so huge that It’ll be a while before I dive into much else.

Smaller games are an easy option though just for a bit of variety and some of those games, like Mario Kart and Graceful Explosion Machine are dip in and dip out experiences that I don’t need to dedicate hours.  I suppose I’m lucky to have the options that I have, and I don’t take any of it for granted even though I work hard to buy the things I enjoy.

My final thoughts on the above come down to one sentence:  It’s a great time to be a gamer.  Additionally I also have some movies I need to get reviewing so expect normal service to resume shortly.

That’s all from me for now.

Craig.